House health subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo (D., Calif.) and Rep. Don Young (R., Alaska) today introduced the Healthcare Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act (HR 6474), which would provide $2 billion to expand telehealth and broadband connectivity at public and nonprofit health care facilities.
“The coronavirus has only increased the need for high-quality and reliable internet connectivity as healthcare is increasingly delivered through telehealth and healthcare professionals depend on broadband for every aspect of their operations” said Rep. Eshoo. “The Healthcare Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act ensures healthcare providers around the country can afford internet connectivity as they respond to the worst pandemic of our lifetimes.”
“Access to dependable, patient-centered healthcare is essential to the well-being of Alaskans, and is especially vital in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Rep. Young. “As technology has advanced, so too has the delivery of healthcare. Telehealth is a proven healthcare delivery method, but requires access to reliable broadband connectivity. The Healthcare Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act takes crucially needed steps to ensure that healthcare providers in Alaska and across the country have the internet access they need to keep our communities safe.”
A news release noted that “[t]he FCC’s Healthcare Connect Fund Program (HCFP) subsidizes 65 percent of the cost of broadband for eligible public and nonprofit rural healthcare facilities. H.R. 6474 expands the program to include rural, urban, and suburban healthcare facilities, including mobile and temporary facilities established to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and increases the subsidy rate to 85 percent. The bill also streamlines administrative requirements to ensure healthcare providers receive funding as quickly as possible.”
The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition and 47 other health organizations endorsed the bill today and called on Congress to include it in the next COVID-19 package.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on Americans across the country, and healthcare organizations are under enormous pressure to increase their telemedicine services to meet the needs of patients and medical professionals,” said John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition. “The SHLB Coalition estimates that the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Health Care (RHC) program needs an additional $2 billion in funding to ensure that healthcare institutions can obtain the broadband capacity they need to handle the heightened telehealth demand.”
“This is a smart and targeted investment surge by Reps. Eshoo and Young and exactly what we should be doing during this public health emergency – finding ways to bring 21st century connectivity and more digital technology to all of our country’s hospital systems and healthcare providers – no matter their zip code,” said Jonathan Spalter, president and chief executive officer of USTelecom. “We know broadband powered telehealth can expand access and coverage options that can help frontline healthcare providers diagnose and treat more patients in this crisis and beyond.”
“In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, it is more critical than ever that our nation’s health care providers have ample broadband connectivity for telehealth services. The COVID-19 Act, introduced today by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Don Young (R-AK), would inject needed funds into the FCC’s Rural Health Care programs and direct the agency to take steps to distribute these funds to eligible providers as quickly as possible,” said Matthew Polka, president and CEO of ACA Connects. “We are pleased that the bill properly recognizes the importance to patients that health care providers obtain the connectivity they need quickly, and encourages and enables providers to make funding decisions on this basis. ACA Connects members have built high-performance broadband networks and provide service in the areas of many health care providers. Thus, they are well-positioned to provide this service right away. ACA Connects proudly supports the bill.”
The news release on the bill said it also is backed by groups that include the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, NCTA, and the Fiber Broadband Association. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
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